Saturday, 27 June 2009

Café de los Maestros and Tanguarda

My eyes are propped open with matchsticks today so this is just a mess of disconnected thoughts. I'm making mistakes all over the place and there will probably be typos too.

In some ways the Café de los Maestros concert was a bit disappointing. Now I know nothing whatsoever about soundsystems, amplification, or concert halls, and the playing was, as far as I could tell, fabulous; but the sound seemed really flat for the first number. And it was generally not great for the entire first half; Juan Carlos Godoy in particular seemed overamplified to me, in a very loud, harsh way, so that I just couldn't tell if he was still good or not. It was better when he held the microphone further from his mouth. I couldn't hear the piano or the guitar at all well except in solos.

Alberto Podestá didn't turn up. Apparently he does that sometimes. It was a pity, as several people I met were there specifically to see him and were disappointed. One of them had met him recently in Argentina. But he is very elderly; I hope he's not sick.

Nina Miranda, who we were told made her debut in 1940, was great and sounded wonderful. She reminded me vividly of Dawn Hampton. I also really enjoyed the solos of Anibal Arias (guitar) and Osvaldo Montes, who plays the bandoneón with remarkable economy of motion.

And I was charmed by the visual effect of the several young women playing violin and cello in the back row, on a platform raised by a few feet; when not actually required to play, they turned their heads, stretched their necks, and watched the soloists with attentive admiration, like a row of angels at the back of a Victorian painting, approving some scene of Patriarchs. The violinist on the left even applauded at one point, and the cellist on the right was as fascinated as I was by Osvaldo Montes' right hand on the bandoneón.

They improved the sound a lot in the interval and it was much better for the second half. I still couldn't really hear the guitar or the piano, and couldn't tell at all where the sounds of solos were coming from except by watching. I have no clue what was wrong, but it wasn't working for me and I longed to cut off the electricity (except to the lights on the sheet music) and hear the instruments on their own terms.

Tanguarda played on the free stage beforehand, but it was such a beautiful evening I couldn't bear to be indoors just then, and sat on the terrace with friends. Afterwards they were at Carablanca, and played a concert set as well as a dance set. The concert set, mostly Piazzolla, was wonderful and I really valued the chance to sit upstairs for a while and listen properly. The band has to be excellent for this kind of thing, but Tanguarda are excellent, and the pianist had a ball with the Bösendorfer piano.

I like to have live music, and I like to have my expectations raised about its quality. Getting people used to really good live music increases the returns for the musicians on being good. It also makes people dance better because they have to switch the autopilot off.

I think some people went to Negracha instead when they realised Tanguarda's first set would be a concert, not for dancing. But that's ok with me; I appreciated having the choice, I daresay they did too, and that's the upside of having two milongas on a Friday so close together. They can compete on quality as well as on offering people what they want. And there were non-dancers who turned up for the concert, which I think is nice. I also appreciated the fact that Carablanca have started serving snacks since I was last there. They seem to have sorted the lighting out too.

I do think Tanguarda were overamplified, though. A bandoneón, as far as I understand it, is a brilliant German instrument maker's response to the functional requirement "I want to play Bach on something that fits in my suitcase". A Bösendorfer piano is a Bösendorfer piano, built specifically for the purpose of filling a concert hall with sound by people who really know what they are doing. A double bass and a violin don't require any electricity beyond what is provided by the human nervous system. Conway hall was built specifically for the purpose of lectures and concerts of classical music without amplification. I don't think these instruments or players need mikes or speakers, and if the space, for some reason I don't know about, means that there have to be mikes, I would have assumed in my ignorance that the goal was for the mikes to sound as though they aren't there. All the amplification does for me is make the whole thing sound as though it's coming out of a CD player with the volume too high.

I'd love to hear both these bands unplugged.

But I was up till 03:30, I got up at 8 today, it's hot, the thunder has started, and soon there will be my favourite sound in the world - the sound of rain on trees in full leaf. Now I need to put some sports commentary on the radio or something and lie down.

[Update: after 10 hours sleep, changed the Bach link for a much, much better one. And for Google robots: the concerts reviewed, or rather described, in this post were at the Barbican Hall and Conway Hall/Carablanca respectively.]


Simba said...

I agree completely on the virtues of unplugged tango music -- I have danced to live unplugged orquesta tipica a couple of times, and it is magical. If you have the chance to dance to Sans Souci sometime, it is highly recommended. I will never forget the night at La Nacional. I think the singer had a mike, though.

maya said...

Live music to dance to...such a pleasure, and these days even luxury as there are not many good ones performing often. What a pity about the sound problems at the Barbican. Agree with you about Tanguarda, they were excellent. I would like to hear them unplugged, just to compare, I did not find them overamplified but I am not the best judge on that as I am hard of hearing.

msHedgehog said...

Hi Maya, I was sitting right in the centre of the balcony, and that may have been where it was loudest. Perhaps it was patchy and just very loud in certain parts of the hall.